Our gal in Kingston
Betsy Kepes, who is part of our book club team and who reviews regional literature for the station, is representing us at the Kingston WritersFest this weekend. Here’s her first report. –ER
IN KINGSTON—POETRY, SIBERIAN TIGERS, AND NAOMI WOLF
“You’re not from around here.” The owner of the used bookstore on Princess Street in Kingston knew immediately that we were strangers. Did we look that ragged and bumpkin-y? I’d travelled to Canada with my seventeen-year-old son Jay and my friend Suna.
The man pointed to a book Suna had removed from the window display, Louise Erdich’s novel Tracks. “None of my customers would be interested in that book.” It was too American.
I asked about Kingston authors and had trouble writing the names down fast enough. The man was a fountain of information. Suna pointed at her watch. It was almost time for the 4:30 events at the Writersfest.
On the sixth floor of the Holiday Inn I crowded into a dark room with a couple of hundred people to hear six poets remember Tom Marshall, a beloved poet and professor at Queen’s University. I have to admit I’d never heard of Marshall but I had heard of one of the poets in front of the mic—Michael Ondaatje. I loved the powerful sentences in The English Patient and it was a thrill to see its author— his white hair floating in an uneven nimbus around his head. He spoke in a deep, rich voice and I wish he’d read more than one poem.
After the poetry I rushed over to another darkened room to catch the tail end of a documentary about a man-eating tiger in Siberia. John Vaillant’s book, The Tiger, takes the same event that is at the center of the documentary and adds history and politics and psychology to explore what is happening to tiger habitat and why. Following the film he took questions. The crowd in this room was smaller but the questions were sharp and Vaillant gave big, thoughtful answers. Someone in the audience asked if Vaillant thought of the Siberian tigers as spiritual deities, in the way that the native people in that part of Siberia did. Not exactly, Vaillant answered. “ A lot of the stories we tell ourselves are to serve ourselves.” That’s a good line to remember.
And the last event of the literary day for me was a talk by Naomi Wolf in the Grand Theatre, a beautifully renovated space on Princess Street, the main shopping street downtown. Wolf is best known for her 1991 book The Beauty Myth (which I now want to read). She’s on a book tour for her latest book Vagina: A New Biography (which I now don’t have to read because I got the gist of it). Not surprisingly women—young to old– were the majority in the audience. Wolf was a wonderful speaker—witty, warm and not afraid to talk about sex. She took questions at the end and hands went up all over the hall.
So far the Writersfest is a great success for the three of us. We also managed to get in a quick dinner at Vietnamese noodle restaurant, a walk around the Queens University campus and, for Jay, the late showing of the new sci-fi movie Looper. He reports that it’s a good thing I was in the hotel writing this blog because I wouldn’t have liked it at all—too much gratuitous violence. It’s good to have a movie reviewer in the family. Jay saves me from going to many movies. I’d rather read books.